Nighttime Rocket Launch Tuesday Viewable From East Coast!


NASA and the U.S. military will launch a record payload of 29 satellites from a Virginia spaceport Tuesday night (Nov. 19) on a mission that could create a spectacular sight for skywatchers along the U.S. East Coast, weather permitting.


The U.S. Air Force launch will send an Orbital Sciences Minotaur 1 rocket into orbit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va., sometime during a two-hour launch window that opens Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. EST (0030 Nov. 20 GMT).

The nighttime launch could light up the sky for millions of observers along a wide swath of the Eastern Seaboard, and could be visible from just northeastern Canada and Maine to Florida, and from as far inland as Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, depending on local weather conditions, according to NASA and Orbital Sciences visibility maps.

rocket viewing area sighting schedule

Visibility maps from Orbital Sciences shows the likely ranges of visibility for Tuesday night’s launch, including details on how high in the sky it will appear and how many seconds will elapse before the rocket first becomes visible above the horizon.

The four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket will be launched on a southeast trajectory and should be visible, depending on cloud cover and one’s viewing location, from northern Maine and southern Quebec province to coastal Georgia. It may also be seen as far west as eastern Kentucky. The Stage 3 cutoff will take place at a distance of approximately 300 miles (482 km) downrange from Wallops Island. That works out to a potential viewing radius of up to 1,000 miles (1,600 km).

It should look like a light in the sky similar to a very bright star shining with a yellow-white tinge. It may also seem that the rocket dips back to Earth as it moves farther away from the observer — just as a ship appears to sink as it moves out to sea — but actually the rocket is going higher, faster and farther from populated areas.

The key to making a sighting is to have a clear, unobstructed view of the horizon in the direction of Wallops Island. For example, a viewer in Raleigh, N.C., should look toward the northeast; in Providence, R.I., you should face southwest; in Pittsburgh, Pa., it’ll be in the southeast.

Click here to watch Mission Control in action and see the live lift off! 



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